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Japan immigration

Japanese cities lack support for foreign residents, poll shows

Nearly 60% still do not have dedicated offices for daily life assistance

A woman holds school information pamphlets in multiple languages, including Chinese and Thai, for foreign residents in Tokyo.

TOKYO -- About 60% of major municipalities lack comprehensive support offices to help foreign residents adjust to life in Japan, a Nikkei survey has found, even as a new visa program is set to bring in more workers from overseas starting in April.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications instructed localities in 2006 to draw up action plans to accommodate the rising number of foreign residents, including setting up sections dedicated to that purpose. More than a decade later, just 41% of the 253 cities and wards surveyed have created such departments, while 57% have not, according to the poll.

The survey results suggest that Japan is inadequately prepared for the up to 345,000 additional foreign workers anticipated over a five-year period under the new visa program. Less than 30% have such simple assistance programs as helping them with garbage disposal and finding apartments.

"We have limited administrative resources in terms of personnel and costs," said an official in Naha, the capital of Okinawa Prefecture. "It will take time to tackle every measure."

The ministry asked municipalities to provide a variety of administrative services for foreign residents, including multilingual support, education and assistance with daily life. The Nikkei survey asked localities about measures on 13 items on the list.

The most widely implemented service was the provision of government information in multiple languages, with more than 90% of surveyed municipalities saying they put such programs in place. About 90% also said they are assisting with Japanese-language education.

But local governments have lagged in providing assistance with daily life matters. Only 26% said they help foreign residents find housing and crack down on discrimination on this front. On garbage disposal, a common source of tension with Japanese locals, 70% said they do not provide guidance on the proper methods. Just 4% said they are considering doing so.

Localities with high percentages of foreign residents are further ahead in their efforts. Forty municipalities where foreigners constitute more than 3% of the population have taken measures on 7.4 of the 13 items on average. This greatly outstrips the 4.5 for 67 places where such residents make up less than 1%.

The percentage of foreign residents grew in nearly every municipality in 2018 compared with 2013. The trend is likely to continue as the native Japanese population also declines.

Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward was the highest at 12.1%, followed by Toshima Ward at 10% and Arakawa Ward at 8.5%. The survey captured 44 municipalities with more than 10,000 foreign residents.

The poll was taken by Nikkei Research among 334 localities, including cities of more than 100,000 residents, between November and December, with a response rate of 90%.

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